Film review: Learning to Drive (15)

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What Peter Kay and Sian Gibson did in Car Share, Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson do in Learning to Drive. The comedy is much less strident but the intimacy of two people in a car lends itself to interplay that pushes the plot forward.

Wendy Shields (Clarkson) is the middle-class book critic who finds herself suddenly unshackled from a long marriage when dumped by her husband. Darwan Singh Tur (Kingsley) is the Sikh driving instructor and part-time cabbie to whom she turns for driving lessons, and independence. The comedy is gentle and predictable as this mis-matched duo – he patient, avuncular, warm, she scatty, liberal and seeking to recover the confidence that once ruled her character – engage in rat-a-tat exchanges about life, the universe and everything.

The chemistry between the two leads is tangible, easy and comfortable. Kingsley is a master of the deadpan one-liner and even hidden beneath the turban and beard his sense of quiet exasperation shines through in those expressive eyes. Clarkson brings plausibility to Wendy, who is forced to navigate a route through a landscape she once knew but which is now scattered with wrong turns and cul-de-sacs.

There is perhaps a quasi hiccup as Darwan meets his soon-to-be-bride in an arranged marriage. It diverts attention from the central dynamic but also strengthens Kingsley’s role as a man still struggling to find a focus for himself. Learning to Drive is geared towards an older demographic, and it shows. However whilst it is occasionally and undeniably twee it crucially never morphs into a rom-com. That would have been unforgivable.

On general release

By Tony Earnshaw